Pakistan opposition leader ‘arrested’ after anti-government rally

Muhammad Safdar of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party arrested, his wife Maryam Nawaz says, hours after second large opposition rally.

Supporters of major opposition political parties including Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) gather during an anti-government rally in Karachi [Shahzaib Akber/EPA]

Muhammad Safdar, a leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, has been arrested at his hotel in the southern city of Karachi, his wife Maryam Nawaz, also a PML-N leader, said.

Safdar’s arrest early on Monday morning followed a rally held by an alliance of opposition parties that attracted tens of thousands of people in the country’s largest city on Sunday.

“Police broke my room door at the hotel I was staying at in Karachi and arrested [Muhammad] Safdar,” tweeted Maryam, daughter and political heir of three times prime minister and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif.

“I was in the room, sleeping, when they barged in,” she said.

Safdar was arrested after had been booked by the police following slogans against the government during a visit to the mausoleum of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, ahead of Sunday’s rally.

A spokesman of the provincial government said police had not acted on their orders, Reuters news agency reported.

Opposition builds momentum against Khan

The rally in Karachi was the second organised by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – an alliance of 11 opposition parties – with the first having taken place in the northeastern city of Gujranwala on Friday.

The rallies are a part of a campaign to remove Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, who the opposition parties accuse of being installed by the military in a rigged 2018 election.

Supporters of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of political opposition parties, listen to their leaders during an anti-government rally in Karachi [Akhtar Soomro/Reuters]

Speaking via video link from London to the Gujranwala gathering, Sharif accused army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa of rigging the 2018 polls and orchestrating his removal in 2017.

In response, Khan alleged that Sharif’s accusation against the army was part of a conspiracy at the behest of India.

Sharif is already facing sedition charges for criticising the military for interfering in politics.

Maryam said her party was not anti-military, but, “if you say that we will respect those who would crush the ballots under their boots, that’s not going to happen”.

The military, which denies meddling in politics or electoral wrongdoing, has yet to respond specifically to Sharif’s accusations.

The opposition rallies came as Pakistan’s economy – which had already tanked before the global pandemic – struggled with double-digit inflation and negative growth, which Khan’s opponents blame on his government.

“You’ve snatched jobs from people. You have snatched two-time a day food from the people,” said Maryam about Khan while addressing the rally.

With additional reporting by Asad Hashim in Islamabad.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies